The New York Criminal Law Blog

High Crime Areas: 3 Legal Truths

As part of Operation Impact, which also introduced the department's controversial stop-and-frisk tactics, the NYPD has assigned rookie officers to patrol high-crime areas in the city with little direct supervision.

The practice is beginning to raise questions about potential discrimination and excessive force being used against people in such areas, Al Jazeera America reports.

Here are three legal truths about high-crime areas:

  1. Reasonable suspicion. Police can use a flight in a "high crime area" as an element of determining reasonable suspicion. In Illinois v. Wardlow, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that nervous, evasive behavior and location in a high crime area are relevant factors in determining the reasonable suspicion necessary for a Terry stop under the Fourth Amendment. However, it is not by itself sufficient to trigger reasonable suspicion.
  2. Stop and frisks. A police officer cannot stop and frisk you solely because you are in a high crime area. A lawful stop-and-frisk must include reasonable suspicion of criminal activity as well as reasonable suspicion that someone is armed and poses a danger. A person's race or other general hunches in a high-crime area are not legitimate ways to justify a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity; officers must have a particularized suspicion based on articulable facts in order to legally perform a stop-and-frisk.
  3. Right to sue. People in high-crime areas still have legal rights. Section 1983 of Civil Rights Act exists to protect victims from police attacks on their constitutional rights. Though suing the NYPD involves a complicated legal process, a victim can file a lawsuit in federal court under Section 1983 for a wide range of violations, such as excessive force, racial slurs, lethal force, and false arrest.

If you feel you've been the target of an illegal search or other form of police misconduct in a high-crime area, you may want to consult a civil rights attorney to discuss your options. If you're currently facing criminal charges, you'll want to contact a criminal defense attorney.

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